Walk on the Wild Side

Is it time to take another giant step toward self sufficiency?  A great addition to your emergency preps, 72 hour kit, 3 day to two week bag and go food supply is a longer term food storage plan.  Some organizations suggest that you may want to store about three months worth of food at home in case the just-in-time supply system breaks down.  This supply would consist of regular canned and boxed goods that your family is used to eating on a regular basis.  Three months can be a lot of food to store for a family so I learned how to use coupons to get them fast and cheap.  It has been an ongoing project.  Maybe eventually a one to five year food storage plan can be put in place.  This would be even more expensive since it would require purchasing dehydrated or freeze dried foods along with bulk items in buckets.  And where would we put it?  Learning vegetable gardening, preserving and seed saving was the logical next step in order to extend a food supply beyond storage which will not last forever and would be difficult to replenish during hard times.  It’s a wonderful skill set to own even if you never have to use it in a survival scenario.  A satisfying hobby.

Emergency Preps or Survivalism?  Another segment to add to these preps and skill sets is something that many preppers have never thought of, but most survivalist types include in their repertoire of knowledge.  It’s actually a very natural transition.  Always an active, outdoors child used to a variety of activites including hiking, camping, and fishing, the interest carried over into my adulthood.  In my 20’s and 30’s in particular, the out of doors experience drew me out of hibernation (I tend to be reclusive) and into the wilds, even if it was just a short adventure near to home.  I began to carry various field guides with me on these little adventures, books with pictures and information telling me about birds, insects, animals, tracks, reptiles and wild plants.  Jotting down notes, locations and drawing little sketches became routine.  Soon I had chosen my area of special interest and felt there was a very practical application for the things I had learned.

Ever thought of doing your grocery “shopping” outdoors?  There is no shortage of hunters and fisherman in my neck of the woods, and if ever a disaster hit, they would know where to “shop” for protein for their families, probably overlooking the obvious (and trampling over) the wild garden of goodies that’s free for the taking and is not a moving target.  Wild edible, medicinal and useful plants abound in every ecological zone and in every season.  The Native Americans knew about them, the pioneers and mountain men learned about them and once settlements were built, food and supplies began to be shipped in, they were all but forgotten.  Many of these plants are considered to be the weeds growing in your yard.  Every year when my husband wanted to spray herbicides to make his job a little easier, I reminded him that we may need those weeds to keep us alive.

Set your sights beyond your cupboard shelves and take a walk.  Look in empty lots, nearby fields, parks, greenways and picnic spots to start educating your family about what’s available in your area.  Get familiar with the names and uses of each plant and if you feel adventurous, start experimenting with preparing and eating or using these plants in your every day meal routines.  You’ll be amazed at what you’ve been missing!

Pecking Order

There is currently a huge movement in the U.S.  More and more urbanites are becoming backyard chicken farmers (see http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/healthscience/2011/June/Backyard-Chickens-All-the-Rage-in-the-Big-Apple/).  Whether it is a fad, economics, healthy eating or an animal hobby, there are more and more people adding chickens to their list of necessities.  I had been wanting to own a small flock for a long time and finally got the chance when I purchased my 1/3 acre home replete with lawns, garden space, patio, sheds and a variety of fruit and nut trees.

Our 90 year old home had recently been remodeled, but the yard had been fallow for over five years.  After the guys raked up the two foot deep debris littering the entire yard and mowed the knee high grass and weeds, we discovered that whole entire armies of every kind of bug you can think of had made our yard its habitat.  And without the protective cover, they went on the move.  There wasn’t enough bug spray in Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace Hardware or Walmart combined to kill all the bugs – and some of them were beneficials which we would need when we got the gardens going.  Time for organic methods.

My sister brought over her old 5′ x 6′ coop and after building a shaky chicken wire run, we bought two bantams, Archie and Edith.  Bantams are the best bug eaters in the world next to anteaters.  They started gobbling up the bugs and within a couple of weeks, the ground in our yard was no longer “moving”.  Chickens are so entertaining to watch, that we decided we needed more and bought a banty hen named Big Mama, and her three daughters.  We soon learned that there is an unkind pecking order with chickens and even though Big Mama and the girls were the newest, they were also the biggest and eldest.  They picked on poor Edith.  The neighbors picked on Archie when he started crowing (all day and all night – worse than a barking dog) and animal control informed me of the city ordinances.  I could have up to five registered hens, but no roosters.  Archie got relocated and Edith died of a broken heart.  After that experience, we were more careful about housing the chickens together too soon.  Now we have a 10′ x 10′ coop with a 10′ x 10′ dog kennel chicken yard and currently have 7 regular laying hens (Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds) and one pretty little bantam, Winnie, who all provide us (and friends and neighbors) with two and half dozen eggs weekly.

Benefits of owning a personal flock of chickens:

  • No waste.  After recycling the approved items with the city, and feeding all food scraps to the chickens, we only have one bag of trash to dispose of each week.
  • Compost.  If you are a gardener or landscaper, you can fully appreciate the advantage of owning chickens.  The chicken yard is the compost bin.  We throw in all food scraps, weeds, grass, soiled straw from the coop and rabbit pen, windblown fruits and vegetables and the chickens eat it, scratch it, and add fresh manure which is dug out twice a year, “cooked” for another year and put on all plants and trees.
  • Insect, weed, and vermin eradication.  Chickens will eat most all bugs, spiders, centipedes, scorpions and small vermin like mice and voles.  They also eat huge quantities of weeds and if contained in a “tractor” will completely clear a spot of ground in hours.
  • Food.  Home grown eggs are not less expensive than store bought, but are more safe and nutritional (see http://handcraftedcoops.com/home-raised-eggs-offer-superior-nutrition ).  At least I know what my chickens are eating and that they are happy and healthy.  Also, if you’re not squeamish and your chickens aren’t pets, you will have a source of organic poultry for your freezer.  However, most city ordinances prohibit any kind of animal butchering.  You may have to seek out a local butcher or farmer to do the dirty deed.

Other eggcellent reasons can be found on this site, http://www.goodfoodworld.com/2011/05/a-dozen-reasons-to-have-urban-chickens/.

What will happen to my chickens if I lose my home?  No problem.  The coop is portable and they will either go with me or find a new home at my sister’s homestead or my son’s horse farm.  I can visit them any time.  Think you might want to venture forth into the backyard poultry craze?  Try http://www.backyardchickens.com/ for more information.

A Temporary Life

In spite of my attorney assuring me that I can go ahead and plant my gardens this summer, I am still reluctant to go through a lot of work and trouble in case I am asked to leave.  Also, I am unable to do as much as I used to and last year was too ill to work in the garden at all which resulted in a three foot high overgrowth in the beds and pathways this year.  Very discouraging.  But, I did go ahead and weed the mailbox garden and have had the front lawn mowed weekly in order to keep the neighbors from mobbing my house with pitchforks and torches.

So my brother-in-law gave me a few vegetable starts on our last visit and I couldn’t bear to see them just sit in their little pots and die unattended so my practical sister suggested I do container gardening this year.  That way, if I have to move, they can go with me.  It also turned out to be much easier on my poor body.  I got to sit in a chair and plant on a little table top and my son helped me move the containers (one half-barrel, two Earth Boxes, two tree size nursery pots and two large planter pots) over to the side of the house right next to the water faucet so I won’t have to walk far to take care of them!  With any luck, I’ll be able to harvest a small amount of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, six assorted sweet and hot pepper plants, a couple of broccoli and two cabbages, a mini-hubbard squash and a pumpkin.  I can add another container with some lettuce, radishes and green onions (I always have seed).  At least I won’t feel left out even though it is nowhere near what I usually plant each year.

There are temporary relationships, temporary jobs, temporary “situations”.  Practically everything in life is temporary, including life itself!  But, the satisfaction I will get from being at least a little self-sufficient will stick with me for a very long time.